As far back as 1975, young Dutch Ivar Jenten went to India to take part in the ‘Auroville’ project, a universal city-in-the-make where occidental and oriental thought & way of living could be combined together. Auroville is located in Tamil Nadu, southern India, a few kilometres inland from the Coromandel Coast and some 10 km north of Pondicherry Town. The purpose of Auroville is to realise human unity in diversity.
Ivar came to Auroville because of Sri Aurobindo – Ivar stayed because of the Tamils and Sri Aurobindo. ‘While nobody is perfect”, he says, “Tamil people have by nature something in their psyche that I have hardly been able to glimpse in myself…., so what I cannot glean from reading and meditation, I hope to learn by being and living with them.”
As socially engaged person, Ivar soon became aware of the severe difficulties of the socially marginalised Dalit communities surrounding Auroville and began to reach out to them. With simple methods and means, he started various evening schools in the colonies and, in 1979, founded the first day school, ‘Isai Ambalam’, for the local kids. The school functions till this day and is since 1987 officially taken up in Auroville’s educational curriculum.
By working in the evening schools, Ivar was directly confronted with unemployment, the abuse of alcohol, overcrowded families, suppression of women, altogether not an easy way of living. He quietly and persistently started setting up several empowerment projects for women, enabling them to get their own salaries. From 1977 up till 1982, with the help of other Aurovilians and organisations, he developed 12 night schools for the children in the villages and colonies around Auroville, many of which in one way or the other are still functioning. Needless to say, quite a number of the youngsters benefitting from them are currently confident residents of Auroville.
Due to family circumstances in The Netherlands, Ivar had to leave Auroville in 1990. However, he never forgot his projects which continued functioning by trusted friends. One of them was Ms Brigitte Vink, a young and energetic Dutch woman, with the help of whom he founded after his return in 2003 the Isai Ma(i)yam Trust in Pondicherry, 10 kms south of Auroville. Isai Ma(i)yam means ‘centre of music’ and it includes a well running school for differently-abled children, an art school, a boys & girls home as well as various village projects.